Candidate Websites: The Good, Okay and Non-Existent

Like many Vermont citizens, I’ve been frustrated with the continuing saga of Vermont Health Connect (don’t bother clicking until November 15th, after the election).  Although, I am neither a VHC insurance customer or healthcare provider, my hope is for better access to healthcare and cost containment.  But as a taxpayer, it is not acceptable to see such results for the tax dollars spent.  It does not matter that it came from our federal pocket instead of our Vermont pocket; a tax dollar is a tax dollar.  As someone who works in the Information Technology field, and has seen the pros and cons of IT outsourcing over the years, it’s not completely surprising or unexpected, whether the customer is a business or government agency.

Given that it is election season, politicians have expressed their frustration with the so-called “Nothing Burger” that is VHC.  Not that many of these politicians and candidates have ever actually built a website, I share their exasperation.  The humorous comments I’ve heard have been along the lines of “it’s just a website” and “any teenager could build a better website than CGI”.  What VHC is attempting to do is beyond “just a website”.  VHC is supposed to be a web portal site with a back-end network of web applications and services amongst the State of Vermont, federal agencies and insurance company systems.  But “website” is how politicians and news reports describe it.

vhc_down_4maintVermont Health Connect (until November 15th)

This got me thinking about the websites of candidates.  How well do their websites or social media sites perform or provide useful information to voters and constituents?  There are many ways that candidates interact with citizens, including debates, forums, door-to-door, ads, postcards, flyers and public access TV segments.  A website is just one aspect of the overall campaign, yet it is a very important tool.  For younger voters and newer residents of Vermont, a website can help reach those voters.

So I began looking at Vermont Senate candidate websites, as there are a lot fewer candidates to review than the House.  With 55 candidates for 30 seats, this was a good sample to start with.  I gathered some information and website links into a spreadsheet, then created a webpage summarizing Senate candidate websites and social media sites.

The information presented is based on websites identified (found) as of October 19th, 2014.  I began with the Election 2014: Comprehensive Candidate list presented in VTDigger on June 20, 2014 (which was based on VT Secretary of State primary petitions).  I only searched for websites of candidates who won in the August primary.  I did not reference political party websites, except for Liberty Union candidates, since they listed the party website as their website.

This candidate “web presence” table identifies Vermont 2014 Senate candidates by county, party affiliation and their “web presence”, if any. You can click the icons in the table to reach a candidate’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog or LinkedIn profile.

From my software developer perspective, the main aspects of websites are content, style / graphic design, interactivity, navigation and security.  As an engaged voter, I feel that “Content” is the most important aspect.  Granted I am not a “visual” person, as I prefer reading and listening to music and news on the radio, over watching movies and TV.  While an attractive visual design is important, it cannot make up for content that is minimally useful, lacking, or out of date.  I can be tolerant of a plain looking or clunky website if it contains the useful information that I am looking for.

After you have checked out the table of candidate website links, feel free to comment below about what you think of the websites for Senate candidates in your county.  Tell us what you found to be good or bad about a given website.  Are you disappointed that a given candidate or incumbent doesn’t have any web presence at all, or if they do, the information is out of date?

When you look at the “web presence” table for icons and logos for websites and social media platforms, you can easily see which candidates are in the HTTP Status 404 Club.  Web servers, which host websites will send back an HTTP Status 404 message to your browser if a webpage cannot be found.  Similarly, if a candidate has no web presence, then I consider them to be Status 404 (not found).

candidate_website_http_status_404Candidates “not found” on the web (HTTP Status 404)

Since I am from Rutland County, I will give a summary of the web presence of our county’s seven candidates.  There are 3 incumbents running.  Sen. Eldred French is in the HTTP Status 404 Club.  Sen. Kevin Mullin has a Facebook page, but it was last updated on November 5, 2010, so that’s not much better.  Sen. Peg Flory has a recent Facebook page, which she started on September 23, which only has 3 posts, and no contact information on the About page (but I’ll bet that ALEC knows her contact information).

On the other hand, the newest candidates in Rutland County have put forth more effort as far as cultivating a web presence for voters to peruse.  William Tracy Carris has a pretty good website, with brief mentions of issues, but not a lot of specifics.  Anissa Delauri has made good use of Facebook, including Bio and Issues pages.  Brian Collamore has also done a fine job with Facebook.  Kelly Socia is the one-man Politically Incorrect Party, and his mission is to “Represent the people of Rutland County not a party.”  I can’t argue with that Kelly.  Maybe the Rutland County incumbents could learn a few things from these more tech savvy political newbies.  Granted, our incumbents do attend various forums and debates throughout the year, but not every voter can attend those events.  That is why having a more comprehensive, up to date web presence is so important to voters.  Candidates should not just count on “name recognition”.

In the “web presence” table, I also included links to LinkedIn profiles.  Given that some candidates have little or no web presence, perhaps LinkedIn might provide some useful information on professional background and career.

When you look at a campaign website, assuming that a candidate even has one, you often find the usual About, Contact, Events, Photos and Donate pages.  But I think more highly of candidates who have an Issues webpage, or at least summarize their top concerns or ideas.  Some candidates may have a nice looking website or a Facebook page, but don’t write down and publicly post what they actually think about specific issues.

Every voter is different.  You may or may not think candidate websites are important.  But if so, maybe you are interested in other things beside the Issues page.  Maybe you are turned off by retro looking websites or bad color schemes, and won’t bother spending the time reviewing the site after the initial impression.  Or, maybe you’re like me and look for the Issues link after reading the About page.

Check out your county’s candidate websites and social media sites, and tell us what you found, or could not find.  You can also let us know what you found regarding Vermont House candidates as well, once you find their site(s).  You only have about two more weeks of web surfing before Election Day.  Remember to vote on November 4th.


One thought on “Candidate Websites: The Good, Okay and Non-Existent

  1. Pingback: Blogging 101: Day One | Ski The Middle VT

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